Thursday, June 26, 2008

Swami Karpatriji

I wanted to write a blog about the classes and lectures I listened to in Vrindavan, but I never got around to it. I did mention Prema Das's very enjoyable Chaitanya Charitamrita lectures at Radha Raman Nivas, but did not give a summary of the morning Bhagavata classes that I attended at the Krishna Balaram temple. I thought I would check the general temperature of Hari Katha at that noble institution and probably went to about eight or ten classes altogether, nearly every day someone different. I heard Radha Raman Swami twice, as he spoke in English one day and Hindi the next.

About those Iskcon lectures, I will only make one comment, and that is that I cannot recall having heard the name of Radha a single time, nor Vrindavan, nor the word prema. The only exception to this dearth of rasa was perhaps one young brahmachari who read a couple of songs by Jnana Das about Krishna's rupa.

It must be said, though, that as someone who likes to speak Harikatha, I cannot help salivating a little at seeing classes of 200 to 250 devotees all eager to listen, hungry for a good class. Radha Raman Swami was the best received of all the speakers I saw, and he had some good insights, but not one of them could hold a candle to Prem Das, whose audience was 25 or 30 mostly aging babajis... and a handful of women and grihasthas. (Couldn't resist, sorry!)

Another thing I noticed is that whereas I remember no one ever coming to give a class with notes in the past, now everyone seems to do so, sometimes even bringing in books and reading entire sections from here and there to make a point. It is better, I guess, than hemming and hawing and saying nothing, but this professor trip is not so inspiring. The better lecturers I saw were the ones who were prepared but not looking at notes.

During this time, I started listening to some CDs of Swami Karpatriji's Bhramara Gita lectures. Karpatriji (Hariharananda Saraswati) was quite a famous scholar who taught in Benares. I had purchased a book on Bhramara Gita based on these lectures before going to Vrindavan and found some good things in it, so my appetite was whipped up. When I found the CDs on the Banke Bihari Road, I picked them up despite the rather steep price. Comparing them with the book, I have to say that the editing is really pitiful. I am almost embarrassed at how poorly it was done as though the goal were to save paper rather than deliver the nectar. The editor cut out so much, there is not even a tenth of the material that is found on the recordings. And what has been lost is the most interesting stuff, all the rasa.

Satya Narayanji says he was a big Mayavadi. The first, he said, to start making a trade of speaking the Bhagavatam. There are now so many red-clothed sannyasis with tripundra giving Bhagavata lectures now. SN: "After all, how long can you go on talking about the 27 kinds of consciousness without losing your audience?"

Adirasa, an Iskcon rebel staying at the Jiva Institute came knocking on my door and asked me why I was listening to a Mayavadi instead of Srila Prabhupada. Of course, if I was listening to him to learn how to defeat the Mayavadis, then that was OK. I said that was not the case, leaving him mystified. Later Adirasa remarked that Karpatriji spoke with a great deal of force and authority. Like Prabhupada. Like Swami Rama.

True, Karpatriji may be a big Mayavadi, but I don't care; he is great. I love Hari Katha and there is so much juice in these CDs. The point is that whatever his personal philosophical predilection, he recognizes that the force of bhakti is greater than that of nirakara, nirguna, nirasa Brahma, and he says as much. The atmarama verse is never far from his lips. The fact is that once you are an achintya-bhedabheda-vadi, you are not afraid of Mayavadis any more. You become like the hamsa who takes the nectar from a diluted mixture, and as long as there is no outright polemic against bhakti, you can relish that essence.

Karpatriji explores the commentaries for each verse, and won't put a verse down until he has explored every alleyway, every nook and cranny of interpretation possible, whether it comes from the Gaudiyas, the Vallabhis, or any other sampradaya.

His language is just shaped through and through by the language of the Bhagavata. Entire phrases that slip from his tongue with such natural ease, names of Krishna—he won’t just say “Krishna,” but “Shyamasundar Madana-mohana Paramananda-kanda Sri Krishna” or instead of Radha, he will say “Hladini Shakti Svarupini, Mahabhava svarupini Vrishabhanu-nandini Sri Radha.” By the same token, he has down pat all those lists that the shastras are full of--the five elements, the senses, the degrees of prema, the characteristics of this, the qualities of that. It makes the talk flow nicely when you don't have to stumble over those things but can just rattle them off--you are reminded of them, but they don't interfere with the main subject.

With his vast knowledge of Advaitavada, he can carry a theme like one where he says that Radharani is so fed up with Krishna that she would rather have mukti with sustained philosophical momentum. I think it is this verse he has quoted--

pratyAhRtya muniH kSaNaM viSayato yasmin mano dhitsate
bAlAsau viSayeSu dhitsati tataH pratyAharantI manaH
yasya sphUrti-lavAya hanta hRdaye yogI sumutkaNThate
mugdheyaM kila tasya pazya hRdayAn niSkrAntim AkAnkSati

Munis are trying so hard to pull their minds away from sense objects and place them on Krishna's lotus feet. They would feel so satisfied if they could do so for even a moment, and yet this girl is trying to drag her mind away from thinking of him, trying rather to think of sense objects. And yogis are engaged in tapasya hoping for a momentary vision of the Lord in the heart, and this foolish girls is trying to empty her heart of him. (Vidagdha-madhava, 2.37)

It is really interesting how he uses language. He is basing everything on the tikas, he is repeating the Sanskrit over and over again. Not only the Sanskrit of the verse, but the Sanskrit of the tika as well. He then translates into a moe sophisticated Sanskritized Hindi, following with the more familiar language, repeated his translation over and over until he gets that sentence just right, until he gets that full idea . It does not sound like he is struggling at all, just that with each repetition it becomes more full and complete. Then he goes into the vyakhya. Then he will bring in other verses or citations from other scriptures--Gita, Ramacharita Manasa, or some other text, tell an entire story. Or some nice asvadya verse which he will do something similar with.

Then as he completes the interpretation of one section of the original verse, he will repeat the entire verse, or just the same one or two lines and start in on another vyakhya of the same words or phrases. The end result is that by the time you have listened to the whole five hours of discussion of one verse, it is beating away like a drum in your head. Especially with the malati meter which starts with six short syllables--

madhupa kitava-bandho! mA spRzAGghriM sapatnyAH
kuca-vilulita-mAlA-kunkuma-zmazrubhir naH
vahatu madhupatis tan-mAninInAM prasAdaM
yadu-sadasi viDambyaM yasya dUtas tvam IdRk

O honey drinker! Friend of that cheater! Don't you dare touch my feet with your whiskers, which are all covered with the saffron that has dusted the garlands that cover the breasts of my competitors. Let the Lord of the Madhus go and supplicate the proud women in the court of the Yadus, making a fool of himself there. You are just like the person who has sent you here. (10.47.12)

You are a drunk, and drunks tend to hang out with cheats. No surprise there. So you are quite the cheat too, I am forced to assume. Don't come here and pretend to be humble and conciliatory. I can see the red powder on your face. I know where you have been, so don't embarrass me in this way. You are corrupt and contaminated, whereas I am pure. Your touch will surely make me impure.

You are a bee, and bees are notoriously unfaithful, flying one flower to another, abandoning one as soon as it has exhausted the supply of honey. You are just like the one who sent you, who abandons a woman as soon as he has seduced her. Better you should try to calm the anger of all those women in Mathura who have now experienced Krishna's cheating character. Let him make a fool of himself in the Yadu court by showing how he has to plead with them to forgive him for his cheating ways.

I was just listening today to a lengthy part of his discussion of 10.47.12 (the series starts with 10.46.1 and goes to the end of 10.47) that was based on Dhanapati Suri's commentary, which as far as I can see is the longest one of all, about equal in length to all the Gaudiya commentaries taken together, but one that until now I had not paid much attention to, except that I had noticed it contained a lot of verses from Ujjvala-nilamani.

Anyway, Dhanapati Suri goes into a philosophical interpretation of the entire verse that is as ingenious as it is irrelevant to the actual context. Nevertheless, having this interpretation enriches the understanding on one level, just by taking us there. The word mAninI is interpreted to mean the shruti pramana, for which Dhanapati quotes the dvA suparNA verse and the ajAm ekAm lohita-sukla-krishna (SU. 4.5), both of which demonstrate the duality of the Supreme Soul and the jiva. It is brilliant. Maybe I will get the time to reproduce some of it here some time. Sorry for the cop-out... but I am off to Madhuban. Every Saturday and Sunday, 7.30 p.m. No cover charge.

Karpatriji is going to have a big influence on my Hindi lectures, though I don't expect that I will ever be anything like him. It is just like when I attended many classes by Ananta Dasji. He inspired me greatly to learn more and refine my language. To master the craft. I don't think that I will ever get to anywhere near the kind of fluency of either of them--or any other native speaker of Hindi or Bengali for that matter--but it is worth the effort. I want to distribute the rasa.

I feel like I have perhaps wasted the last 20 years. I might actually have become pretty good if I had stuck it out over that time. Oh well, no doubt something has been gained over that time.

Only trouble is I don't have all the CDs. There must be another 25 hours or something to complete the series.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Madan Gopal Goswami Enters the Nitya Lila

I received news yesterday from Anuradha and then Prem Gopal Goswami that Prabhupada Madan Gopal Goswami has departed this world. Though in my two visits to Nabadwip in the last several years I had hoped to meet Madan Prabhu, he was in Agartala both times. I heard that he had been in poor health and so it seems that we were not to see each other one last time before he undertook his Maha Prayan.

Madan Prabhu was my neighbor during the five years I spent in Nabadwip (1980-1985). The Judge Bari in Gokulananda Ghat was a privileged location, only a few minutes walk from the center of the town and the market, while at the same time being a large, quiet and green area with two tanks, in a rather unkept state, admittedly, but nevertheless protected from the throngs and traffic. The far wall on the southern side, across this empty space, was the boundary between this property and the home of Madan Prabhu.

Of course, Pran Gopal Goswami, Madan Prabhu's grandfather, was and still is a legend in Nabadwip and Vrindavan. He was the most prominent speaker on the Bhagavata in his day and an avid seeker of advanced Vaishnava association, and so a regular visitor to Vrindavan and Radha Kund, where he was often in isthagoshti with the leading figures of that samaja. And so he is frequently cited as a character in the stories of those saints.

Madan Prabhu used to play something on the loudspeaker every morning at 6 o'clock--usually Subbalakshmi's Bhaja Govindam or a very sweet rendition of Bhagavad-Gita verses. Despite the current wish that there would be a little more plain silence in India, I remember enjoying hearing those transcendental sounds, which became the signal that it was time to put down the mala and do Giridhari's puja.

I became a frequent visitor to Madan Prabhu's house, and if I look back, I don't think there were many, perhaps no one else in Nabadwip at the time, who were as great supporters of Madhusudan and myself, particularly me. I still have the Chaitanya Charitamrita that Madan Prabhu signed and gave me. It was a mula matra edition that was published by Pran Gopal Prabhu's very worthy disciple Gopinath Basak and Shyamlal Saha, who was one of our closer friends in the local Vaishnava community. This memento of Madan Prabhu has been with me wherever I have gone over the last 35 years and so you could say that a little bit of his kripa has been my constant companion. He gave me many other books as well, such as the published edition of Chaitanya Charitamrita with Vishwanath's Sanskrit and Pran Gopal's Bengali commentaries. Where that valuable volume is today, I unfortunately have no idea.

The annual festival at Madan Prabhu's Bari is the one dedicated to Pran Gopal Prabhu's mother and guru. I was a regular attendee at this festival, which often had notable guests, such as Chabi Bannerjee, doing Lila or Nama kirtan. And, of course, Madan Prabhu gave Bhagavata classes in his own inimitable style. I don't know to what extent he was an innovator and to what extent he followed his gharwana style of patha, but he always accompanied himself with a harmonium, and later when he got one of the first digital keyboards in Nabadwip, with that. He had a very good voice and did something akin to the way things are done nowadays in Vrindavan--mixing path with songs. In those days, Madhusudan and I were into Ananta Dasji and looking for Radha Krishna lila katha and that kind of mood, so Madan Prabhu's specialty, which was Dhruva-lila and Prahlada-lila, did not interest us very much, but we could appreciate the effectiveness of what he was doing, as evidenced by the large number of disciples who came flocking to his feet, especially in Tripura.

Madan Gosai showed special favor to me by asking me to be one of the Vaishnavas doing parayana during one part of the festival. He liked to hear me chant Chaitanya Chandramrita and always insisted that the mike be put in front of me for most of the time allotted to this function. It may seem like nothing now, but there were a lot of people in the Nabadwip samaj who did not exactly welcome the presence of mlecchas on center stage. Even so, Madan Prabhu was insistent that as Vaishnavas we were not to be considered inferior in any way.

He also defended me to Western scholars. Once Donna Wulff came for the festival to film Nanda Kishor Das, who was the seniormost lila kirtaniya in the old style in Bengal. She was doing research into lila kirtan and filming everyone she could find, but especially Nanda Kishor. When I dropped in that day, I must have looked scruffy, shirtless and wearing an off-white loincloth, neither clean-shaven nor bearded, Radha Kund mud on my forehead and chest. She gave me an undisguised bit of that look the civilized reserve for those who "go native." I was admittedly feeling underdressed and started to wither a little, but when Madan Prabhu introduced me, he told her not to underestimate me.

Another time, I went to hear his path in the Baladeva mandir around the corner--a temple which is in the home of a cousin or uncle, also in the line of Pran Gopal. On that occasion, I was sitting right next to the Vyasasana, and afterwards he gave me the prasad from the Bhagavata puja to distribute to the bhaktas. One of the brahmins there refused to take the prasad that I offered him because of my mleccha-ness. I was offended that he thought I could contaminate prasada and so I wrote a big article on the subject that was published in a local Vaishnava publication. I am pretty sure that Madan Prabhu supported me in that. Although I never understood exactly what happened, as I went to Vrindavan shortly afterward, the article caused a bit of a turmoil in Nabadwip with the babajis and brahmins taking sides against each other, and the babajis even stopping accepting invitations at the Govinda Bari. When I came back, I innocently accepted an invitation at the Govinda Bari, making all the babajis angry that I was not putting my mouth where my mouth was!

Madan Prabhu was always someone I could count on in Nabadwip. I knew that I could go to his house on any day of the week and take prasad. There was an open invitation. If anyone made me feel welcome there during those years, it was he.

When I was working on the English and Bengali translation of Hamsaduta, he invited me to a disciple's house near Calcutta where he was speaking; there was to be some kind of meeting and he wanted me to participate as a speaker. I remember the famous scholar Prof. Roma Chaudhury was also there. Madan Prabhu and I went through most of the Hamsaduta together and he helped improve the Bengali a great deal, so that I learned a lot. But most of all, it was his encouragement and approval of much of the translation as it was that I recall. In particular, we got a lot of relish out of the following verse:

“Nor will the Lord of Death favor Râdhâ, O Murari!
Since her tears have formed a river
whose waves are even more forceful
than those of the Yamunâ,
which looks wan in comparison,
Yamaraj, Yamunâ’s older brother,
has become envious and refuses to oblige her,
even when Râdhâ cries out to him for mercy. (76)

Another time, I wrote a few poems in English about Mahaprabhu. One I remember was the product of a train ride from Calcutta during football playoffs when everyone was listening with frenzied and obsessional interest to the game on the radio. The poem was called, "Is this what Advaita was praying for?" Madan really liked it and had it published in the annual magazine that came out at the Guru festival time.

Madan Prabhu was a great believer in his family tradition. For us foreigners and graduates of the Iskcon Gaudiya Math school, it sometimes seemed quite alien that anyone should think they were privileged by their birth in any way. Madan Prabhu once told me the story of how Ramdas Babaji, at the height of his fame and influence, came and paid his obeisances to him, even though he was just a child at the time. When father Jadu Gopal complained, Ramdas Baba said that just like a rosgulla is always sweet, whether big or small, so a descendant of Nityananda Prabhu is always holy, no matter what his age. I have to say that this changed my perspective considerably on the issue, at least it gave me insight into the way that the sampradaya was spread and the way that the Vaishnava samaj had traditionally operated. Madan Prabhu often spoke of Mahaprabhu's purpose in having Nityananda Prabhu return to Bengal and family life: dui prabhu santane jagat hobe prabhumoy: "Through the children of the two Prabhus (Nityananda, Advaita), the presence of the Prabhus will be felt everywhere." For him, this conviction of the innateness of his responsibility as a descendant of Nityananda Prabhu to spread the message of Mahaprabhu overcame any sense he may have had of personal limitation. That was simply who he was: Nityananda Prabhu's representative on earth.

Madan Prabhu like to hug people, in the firm conviction that his touch would sanctify and inspire them. I got many a hug from him, and looking back on that, I wonder if that is where my own firm belief in hugging people comes from. At any rate, I remember those embraces fondly today and I thank him for them as well as for his many other kindnesses. May his sons continue the noble tradition of their branch of the Nityananda Vamsha in the humility that comes with a great responsibility. I pay them my obeisances and wish them all the best.


Joy Nitai, Joy Gaur, Joy Radhe.

Dear Jagadananda Das,

Loving wishes to you. I pray to Sri Nityananda for your bhajan full life. I wanted to contact you, but didn't know your address. For that I wrote Anuradha and she gave it to me. I think she has already told you that my father Prabhupad Madangopal Goswami entered the Nityalila on June 4 at 4.10 pm.

Though my father opposed so many sampradayas, as soon as they got the news of his entering the Nityalila, they all sent representatives with garlands to show their shraddha to him and to participate at his cremation.

We want to publish a magazine with the name Prabhu Madangopal at the time of the Sri Sri Guru Niryan Maha Mahotsav. You had many experiences and some feeling for him because you spent lot of time with him. I need and request you to write about these feelings and experiences in a article for our magazine. Please send your answer.

Joy Nitai, Joy Gaur.
Prabhupad Premgopal Gosvami
Son Of Prabhupad Sri Madangopal Goswami

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Na Hanyate (Part 3)

Love eternal

Obviously, we could go into a great deal more detail on practically every level of this story, but we have to stop somewhere for the sake of drawing some conclusions from this tale.

I wanted to start from the parallels were already made with the Bhagavatam. According to Sanatan Goswami, there were only some 30 years between Krishna’s departure from Vrindavan and the meeting in Kurukshetra. Even so, I guess that what I am saying is that this story has hit a few archetypal bells, themes that are the stuff of myth and legend—the love that does not die.

So that is the angle that I see this memoir—a tragic love story in the great tradition. Radha and Krishna were also childhood lovers who were separated--forever, if we accept the Bhagavata version. On reading the book, I came to feel that this was an archetypal tragic love story with interesting parallels to the Bhagavata's account of Krishna and the gopis, and it seems worthwhile to try to make a bit of sense out of this parallel, as well as of Maitreyi's observations about love and its spiritual dimension.

sarvathā dhvaṁsa-rahitaṁ saty api dhvaṁsa-kāraṇe
yad bhāva-bandhanaṁ yūnoḥ sa prema parikīrtitaḥ

That affectionate bond between two persons which is not destroyed even when there are all good reasons for its destruction is called love. (Ujjvala-nilamani 14.63)
First of all, I guess we have to try to understand her experience psychologically. The only way I can do that is to try to explain it in Jungian terms. There is an archetype of the ideal man (animus) that she saw in Mircea Eliade when she was young. She then got married to someone else and suppressed the need she felt for the ideal for all those years, but that archetypal complex was never really resolved. If she had really been fulfilled by the life she had led, she would never have been so overcome by this nostalgia and revival of intense feeling.

According to Jung, archetypal experiences have a numinous aspect. And this is exactly what Maitreyi has been describing—the psychic reality takes precedence over the physical. Although I don’t think any psychologist today would agree with her that this necessarily translates into a belief in a spiritual existence, I think that we can say that it is a clue of the ultimate precedence of the subjective, which on its deepest level is experienced in the relation with God.

If we look to the Bhagavatam, in the Uddhava-sandesh sequence (10.47), we find the way that the author saw this mystery. In the Bhagavatam, Krishna gives "adhyatmika" teachings to the gopis three times, telling them on various levels that their concentration, their single-pointed meditation on him is really all they need. It is, in other words, such meditation is as real as the apparently concrete being with him in union.

In a most delightful coincidence, one of the most famous in all the Upanishads is spoken by Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi. Indeed, it is surprising that our author never drew on this passage to interpret her experience, since she must have been familiar with it, as it is almost certainly the source of her own name.—

na vā are patyuḥ kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati,
ātmanas tu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati
na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati,
ātmanas tu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati

na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati,
ātmanas tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati

Truly, it is not for the sake of the husband that the husband is dear,
but it is for the sake of the self that the husband is dear.
Truly, it is not for the wife’s sake that one’s wife is dear,
but it is for the sake of the self that the wife is dear.
Children, wealth, brahmin, kshatriya, worlds, gods, creatures…
Truly, it is not for the sake of anything else that those things are dear, but it is for the sake of the self that all things are dear.
In other words, one is not really interested in the happiness of one’s wife or husband when one loves them. Ultimately, one is really interested in pleasing oneself. Jung would take this a step further and say that we are projecting ourselves, our indwelling archetypes, on the world outside and thereby recreating the world in our own psychological image. And that this is the way Maya works. But when it feels like an invasion by the Other, that is particularly significant, and a call for self-understanding.

Therefore, Yajnavalkya concludes,

ātmā vā are draṣṭavyaḥ shrotavyo mantavyo nididhyāsitavyaḥ. maitreyy ātmano vā are darshanena shravanena matyā vijïānenedam sarvam viditam

Therefore, Maitreyi, the self is what you must seek out. You must hear about the self, reflect on the self and meditate in depth on the self. O Maitreyi, when you have seen the self, heard it, reflected on it, and come to know it perfectly, then you shall know all things. (2.4.5)
In other words, if it is for the self or atma that one loves anything in this world, then it should be the principle thing that we attempt to understand. We must learn what will truly please the self. The thing that is truly most dear to the ātmā is the Paramatma, or “beyond self,” what we often call the Supersoul, or God.

tad etat preyaḥ putrāt, preyo vittāt, preyo’nyasmāt,
sarvasmād antarataram yad ayam ātmā.

That which is the innermost thing of all is the Self. It is dearer to us than our children, dearer to us than our possessions, and dearer to us than any other thing. (1.4.8)

What seems to be the message here in the Upanishad is that because we are looking for the self in the other, such numinous experiences whereby the self is revealed in the other are significant markers in spiritual progress. Where erotic love is concerned, there are three degrees--sādhāraṇi, samañjasā and samarthā. All three are no doubt a consequence of bodily identification, sādhāraṇi being most sexual and least revealing, samañjasā still confined to material goals, samarthā the most opportune for spiritual awakening. (See Gita 3.38)

In Maitreyi's case, what was a potential samarthā relationship (and here we would need to discuss the kind of symbolic language that she and Mircea were using to see how far that potential could have been realized in contrast with the kind of symbolic language I am proposing), was vetoed as sadharani by her father and then condemned (!) her to a samañjasā relationship, with its limited potential for the kind of spiritual attainments that are possible. Certainly in her case, mature as she was in her outlook, it is clear that limitations were there. If not, how can we explain the "return of the repressed"?

Not quite finished with this one yet.

See also Samanjasa

Friday, June 20, 2008

Na hanyate (Part 2)


Maitreyi recounts an interesting vignette towards the end of the third section of the book, in which she remembers a night when Mircea was playing the piano in his room, which was directly below hers. It was late, 2 o’clock at night, and she and her cousin are unable to sleep. Maitreyi says she will go downstairs and tell him to be quiet. I immediately thought, “Aha! She’s finally coming clean and is going to admit that she did go to his room in the middle of the night.” But of course the cousin says that can’t be done; a young girl just does not go to a single man’s room at 2 o’clock in the morning. Maitreyi makes it as far as the door before she is stopped.

Krishna played the flute and Mircea played the piano. Some gopis made it, and some had to go to Krishna in meditation only.

antar-gṛha-gatāḥ kāścid gopyo’labdha-vinirgamāḥ
kṛṣṇam tad-bhāvanā-yuktā dadhyur mīlita-locanāḥ
dhyāna-prāptācyutāśleṣa-nirvṛtyā kṣīṇa-maṅgalāḥ
tam eva paramātmānaṁ jāra-buddhyāpi saṅgatāḥ
jahur guṇamayaṁ dehaṁ sadyaḥ prakṣīṇa-bandhanāḥ

Some of the gopis were kept within their rooms, unable to find a way out. And so, completely absorbed in thought of him, they closed their eyes and meditated on Krishna. All the inauspiciousness they knew was washed away by the intolerably intense pain of separation from their beloved. And the joy of embracing him in their meditation erased their material piety. Being joined with their paramour, the Supersoul, they quickly gave up their material bodies, all their bondage having been eradicated. (10.29.9-10)
Another interesting element of the story also comes out in the third part of the book. Mircea was forbidden by Maitreyi’s father from ever communicating with her. They did have a go-between, Munna, and Maitreyi did succeed in sending her book of poems to Mircea through him, with the inscription, “Mircea, I told my mother that you only kissed me on the forehead.” But subsequently, Munna failed them both and did not bring Mircea’s letters to Maitreyi. This left her resentful, thinking that he had given up on her. Maitreyi finds out about Munna's failure when all these matters come to the surface again and she goes to find him, and amazingly he still has three of the letters 42 years later. Would she have made an attempt at escape and gone to join Mircea if she had known?

Instead, she remained bound in her room, with not even a duti to keep her hopes alive. And so she tried to kill the hopes. She sublimated them, as it were. At first in housekeeping, then in family, then in writing and social service. And then came the return of the repressed.

The Kurukshetra Moment

Maitreyi says herself that as she grew older, she became something of a conservative curmudgeon, always defending moralistic social values and condemning sexual inappropriateness, as well as drinking and other social ills. But as the book develops, and especially after this “return of the repressed,” she is starting to revise her perception. She sees how society is changing, how people react when they hear about Mircea's novel and not condemning her, but rather being sympathetic with her situation, both then and now.

Maitreyi feels she has been made use of or cheapened by Mircea’s representation of her in his novel. She says, "This Western culture sees the only culmination of love in a bedroom." Shock and horror. Still, she recognizes more and more that her feelings are on different levels: the external anger and the internal immortality of their love.

Maitreyi finally decides that she has to see Mircea and she makes the trip to Chicago, knowing in one sense that this is doomed to failure. Perhaps it is precisely the hope that she will see indifference on his part. Her husband, who by this time has heard everything, approves of her trip, just in the hope that it will put an end to the torment.

So, Maitreyi and Mircea have their Kurukshetra moment, that most disappointing juncture of all in the Bhagavatam when viewed from the material point of view. Things have changed too radically for even Radha and Krishna and they can never go back, and so Radha says, mano me kalindi-pulina-vipinaya sprihayati.

O companion! This is the same beloved Krishna
meeting me here in Kurukshetra;
and I am the same Radha,
and both of us are feeling the joy of union.
Even so, my mind wishes for the forest
by the banks of the Yamuna
where the fifth note of his flute
reverberated sweetly within my heart. (Padyavali, 383)
It is quite a scene here too, with Mircea finding it very difficult to even turn around and look at Maitreyi, even trying to avoid the meeting entirely at first. When he finally speaks to the issue, the baffled scholar plaintively asks, "What can we do? We are both married." She can tell him that he does not understand. Maitreyi is under no illusion that the past can be recreated, but she is moved by the idea that love itself is transcendent.

Mircea perhaps put the affair behind him in 1933, so it was way behind him by then, whereas for her, the whole affair has taken on a new kind of power over her. But there is something in his brief statement that makes it look like the flame never completely went out on his side either. Even so, when Maitreyi says that he doesn’t understand, it is because for her, a wider universe has been opened up by this quasi-mystical experience of love. And now it was no longer about them as individuals in relation to one another, but of them in relation to the sublime underlying spiritual force of the universe.

And that is why she challenges him, “The image you gave of me in the book is not realistic. I did not recognize myself in the portrayal you made of me there.” He answers that he was trying to portray her as the unattainable goddess. And that is a tempting line of thought that Maitreyi does not explore. Clearly, we needed to let the Mircea of 1972, with his vast knowledge of symbol and spirituality, speak. But this is Maitreyi’s book, and so Mircea is her creation, like Maitreyi in Bengali Nights was his.

The immortality of love

Anyway, the immortality of the love is definitely there. But to experience that immortality fully, you have to associate it with Radha and Krishna, I am firmly convinced of that. But because of that, you have to surrender to the love, if by Their grace, it appears in your life. Then let what may come. If you are seeking Radha and Krishna, and you see Them in the direction of your love, then They are there, asking you to surrender.

Lovers are separated. And there is no guarantee that their plans or hopes to be together will ever be realized. They float around in a semi-subjective reality, where their presence in each other's hearts and minds seems more real than the floating reality that is wisping around them like so many bits of dandelion fluff, or monsoon haze. This sense that the unreal is more real than the so-called real is a finger pointing in the direction of Radha and Krishna. And we have to follow that finger.

Part 3.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Na Hanyate (Part I)

The other day I had to go to Dehra Doon on Foreign Registration Office matters, and in the course of the visit there, I happened to pick up a copy of the novel Na Hanyate by Maitreyi Devi. I bought the book entirely without realizing what it was about. I had never read anything by Maitreyi before, even though she is a well-known writer in Bengal. Seeing how many of her books were available in Hindi translation made me aware of her pan-Indian reputation and so I became interested.

The title caught my eye, since I also tend to like books that make some reference to Hindu shastras. It is interesting to get the insight that comes from modern novelists commenting in this way on such texts. And, indeed, I have not been disappointed. This blog was started on the date given below, and it has taken my more than a month (July 27, 2008) to assemble my thoughts and finally post it in two parts.

The first thing that happened when I actually started reading the book was I felt a slight shock of discovery, as though an important historical document had been placed in my hand, discovered entirely by accident, for this is the very Maitreyi made famous in some Western circles on account of her brief relation with Mircea Eliade, and this is her account of that encounter and its lasting repercussions in her life. I should say that I have been interested in this story of Maitreyi and Mircea Eliade for a long time, from a distance, without really caring about it sufficiently to track down either her book, which is available in English translation as It Never Dies, or Eliade's personal account of the story, written in 1933, called Bengali Nights.

Somewhat ironically, Eliade and Maitreyi each became famous in their own circles, while remaining pretty much unknown in each other's. Eliade was an influential and popular scholar of religion, and his students at Chicago, including I believe Wendy Doniger (who told me that she learned Romanian just to read this book in the original), pushed for the companion volumes to be published, perhaps as argument and rebuttal, for certainly Maitreyi was in part inspired to write her book as a rebuttal to his, some 40 years later (See A Terrible Hurt).

The plot

The core of the story is that in 1929, the 23-year-old Mircea Eliade came to Calcutta to study with Surendranath Dasgupta, a celebrated scholar of Indian philosophy. At some point, he came to stay in Dasgupta's house. Maitreyi was 16 at the time, something of a brilliant jewel in her own right, being treated by her father, who had given her uniquely intense educational opportunities, as a literary and intellectual prodigy. She came into close contact with Mircea, working with him on cataloguing her father's library, teaching him Bengali while learning French from him.

Charmed by his east-European manners and other qualities, she fell in love with him, and he with her. They were able to associate with a freedom that only a brother and sister could know in India, but their feelings soon became something of an open secret, with everyone except her parents being aware that the lightning of sexual tension was setting off alarm signals past the danger level. Finally, Maitreyi’s jealous little sister cleverly entrapped the two lovers and brought everything out into the open. Eliade was thrown out of the house the next day, piercing his bubble of belief that he could have been accepted as a legitimate suitor for marriage with Maitreyi. Dasgupta may have been educated and progressive, but he was still marching in lockstep with class, culture and society and their expectations. The rapidity of his response revealed the shallowness of the veneer. Again that cursed izzat that makes the woman a prisoner of the men’s sense of honor. A woman may never be free because a man’s shame or pride resides in his ability to control her. Stand tall, hold your women prisoner.

Eliade leaves Dasgupta’s and takes “sannyas,” parting for Rishikesh, where he spends a year in a cave up near Sivananda Swami’s ashram. [The caves, which Maitreyi does coincidentally visit a year or two after Eliade has left, do not seem to exist any longer. As an aside, it would appear that she met Swami Rama’s guru, a former high court judge from Bengal, and in a moving scene emotionally tried to get him to break his vow of silence -- failing -- and tell him whether he could give her any information about the white man who had been staying there.]

Eliade then returns to Romania where his book, Bengali Nights, appears two years later (1933), and tells the story of his adventures, including his love and loss, in novel form. Naturally, Dasgupta is the villain and his Hindu caste mentality is given all the blame. In the book, however, it seems that Eliade embellished a little the extent of his intimacy with Maitreyi, whether for literary effect or for reasons of personal pride. But the novel proves tremendously successful in his homeland, going through numerous printings. And when he became famous as a scholar of religion, it was translated into other languages, beginning with French, and even made into a movie in 1988, starring Hugh Grant and Shabana Azmi.

Maitreyi’s memoir begins in 1972, 42 years after their love affair had been nipped in the bud when she has a visit from a Romanian student of Eliade’s, someone who has read his novel, who was so moved by it that he felt he had to meet her. The main effect of the visit is that it plunges her into an almost paralytic state of deep meditation on the past. It is so real that she can see and feel the things as though the events of the past were happening right there and then. This book gives an account of the events of 1929, Maitreyi’s reflections on them, the subsequent repercussions taking place in 1972 and concludes with a meeting in Chicago with Eliade himself.

The title

Maitreyi chooses a significant title, taken from the famous Gita verse--

na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato'yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre

The soul is never born, nor does it ever die. Once being, it will never cease to be. It is unborn, eternal, permanent and ancient. It is not killed when the body is killed.
It is, I think, worth quibbling for a moment with the translation of the title, for though it seems that Maitreyi first takes up the writing of this book because she is concerned about her reputation and what Eliade's false ("pornographic") description in his novel of their having consummated their relationship will do to it.

But though she is scandalized by this misrepresentation, the overriding mood of the book is the experience of love's mystery. She is affected by an almost complete paralysis that overcomes her when the memory of her teenage love for Eliade floods into her consciousness. She is overwhelmed by an awareness of the undying and eternal aspect of that love. As her narrative progresses, she becomes more and more reflective about this and comes to think of it as something of a religious experience and the proof of an existence beyond the body.

As such, it would appear that "it is not killed," the more literal translation of na hanyate, is also more appropriate than "it does not die."

Maitreyi and Rabindranath Tagore

At the age of 16, Maitreyi was an extraordinarily gifted person coming into her own in a hectic year. Her father was a world-renowned intellectual. She belonged to the Calcutta elite and had free access to, most importantly, Rabindranath Tagore, who was the leader of this culturally influential group. Her father made her read her poems to Rabindranath and he was so impressed that he wrote an introduction when she published her first book--at the same time that all this was going on.

She had herself memorized all of Rabindranath’s poems; in fact it would not be too much to say that she had saturated her consciousness in his romantic linguistic universe, which she may not always have fully understood, but which transported her nevertheless. These form a kind of sound track to the story, as well as an important counterpoint, the words she already knew revealing their meaning to her when events overtook her.

One of the things that Eliade apparently insinuated in his book was that Maitreyi really was “in love” with Tagore. Not having read Eliade, I would not be able to comment, except to say that she had extraordinary devotion for Tagore, whom she considered her guru, though she falls a little short of proffering him the kind of traditional kind of faith given to a religious guru. He is “kavi,” before being guru, if the two can be distinguished.

She cites a poem that her father liked and had her read to Tagore, which she says was a reflection of an experience she had when she was 11 and sitting near a river, when she suddenly had a kind of mystic experience of timelessness. The poem was really a kind of reflection on the Gita verse about the nitya-dhāma

na tad bhāsayate sūryo na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mama

Near the end of the book, she returns to this poem, as though that insight she had had as a child had come back and been confirmed by her experience. But this experience of timelessness, or what she calls mahā-kāla, or mahā-jagat, where the past, present and future are all confounded, where the subjective overwhelms the objective, is where nostalgia, or rasa, is king.

In this respect, Vaishnava padāvali is not altogether absent, though far less present than Rabi Thakur. At one point I was pleased to see her quote Kavi Vallabha (cited on these pages before):

janama avadhi hāma, rūpa nehāralun
nayana nā tirapita bhela
lākha lākha yuga, hiye hiye rākhalun
taba hiye juḍana nā bhela

Throughout my life I have been able to see his beauty, but my eyes have never been satisfied. I could hold him in my heart for countless eons, and still my heart would never get enough of him.
Vaishnava padāvali tends to be more concrete, Rabindranath more etherially romantic and nature-oriented in the 19th century mystical spirit of Whitman and Wordsworth. Nevertheless, Maitreyi says in one place that where Rabindranath was writing about God, she would take it in a humanist, or even completely materialistic, manner. In the book, it makes an interesting kind of contrast, and perhaps it could be said that in the long run, her resistance to Tagore’s poetic transcendentalism is overcome.

But I was particularly interested in Tagore’s concept of love. In Gora, the two heroines are both in a somewhat modern position vis-à-vis the traditional marriage system, and one naturally roots for them, that they will be joined with the men they deserve and not be left to the vagaries of dubious interested parties, for whom materialistic motivations stand above true love and spirituality, which are intertwined. [At one point while reading, I wondered whether the heroines of Tagore’s Gora had served as an inspiration for Dasgupta’s raising of his daughter. The book would have come out at about the time that she was born.] At any rate, she may have thought that she, like them, had the right to choose her husband—even though she never doubted for a minute that it would not be allowed, even when Mircea seemed to think that it would be easily accepted by her father.

Women and Changing Times

Throughout the narrative, Maitreyi is always comparing the past to the present in terms of morals and behavior. She mixes her own story with anecdotes of other women's lives and experiences of love: one who was married at ten and then rejected by her husband because she was too young to have sex; another who was married to someone against her will and then braved public opprobrium by running off with another man. And the talk that followed.

But the most important example she gives is that of her own mother, who loved Vaishnava literature and often quoted that Chaitanya Charitamrita verse, "Kama is for the pleasure of one's own senses. When it is for the pleasure of another's senses, it is called love." Maitreyi even gives the example of the selflessness of a tree as expressed in a poem by Rabindranath, and how it fit her mother and her selfess service to her husband, who treated her with that familiar mix of entitlement and condescension endemic to patriarchy. In the first throes of love for Mircea and contemplating the destiny of marriage to an unknown man who would be chose for her, Maitreyi bursts into tears when she thinks that this may have to be her lot also. Anything but that! She wanted to be her own woman and make her own choices.

There are signs of hope. On one occasion there is talk of revolution. There is a bit of a student demonstration against British rule at Presidency College, where her father was teaching. A student is shot by the police and the others surround the school and ask for the blood of the principal, an Englishman, in exchange for the student's life. Surendranath Dasgupta intervenes and talks to the students and gets them to agree to let the principal go for an apology. When he hears about this, Mircea decides to go out in the town, looking for the "revolution," because he is afraid that when he goes home, people will ask him what he was doing when the revolution took place in India.

When Mircea finally gets back to the house, Dasgupta says, "It is not just by guns and fire that revolutions take place. There is a revolution going on right here in this house." And then he especially talks about women's issues and how Maitreyi is doing things like public speaking, etc., that women would never have been allowed to do even a generation before.

The irony, of course, is not only that Dasgupta reached the limits of his progressive liberalism where his daughter was concerned, but that a few years later, he more or less abandoned his wife for a mistress.

Needless to say, for all her admiration of her father’s qualities and achievements, Maitreyi was quite ambivalent about him on a personal level. She sees even his commitment to her education as an extension of his own ego, and in this light he could not permit her stepping out of the script he had written for her as a part of his story.

Was Maitreyi’s life ruined?

After Maitreyi’s adventure with Mircea comes to its abrupt end, Maitreyi goes through a period of depression. She finishes her high school exams, but her only thought is of how to leave the house as soon as possible. Her only escape seems to be marriage, and she takes it.

When she is first possessed by the return of the repressed love, Maitreyi is still reluctant to admit that she had missed something or that anything had been lost. Sergei said to her, assuming much, "Because of this [i.e., the loss of this love] your life was ruined." "How dare you say my life was ruined? I have had a good life, good husband, children, etc." "Well, let's just say it would have been different." "Yes, that much we can say."

Maitreyi’s relationship with her husband is a good one, without incident. But at the beginning of that married life she spent twenty years in quasi-exile in the Darjeeling Hills where her husband was a forestry officer. Her talents were put out to fallow for all that time. The couple's married life was a peaceful one, but there it never had the romantic magic of her relationship with Mircea. As a matter of fact, she talks about how, in the isolation of the foothills, she came into a kind of obsessive housewife behavior that overcame her, constantly cleaning the house, arranging the knicknacks, keeping it sparkling, gardening... She was like a 1950's American housewife before Betty Friedan.

Her insights into this come in a discussion about jati for a couple of pages. Usually jati means caste or "endogamous grouping" or something like that. It is the basis of the Indian arranged marriage system, at least as it was. Nowadays, you see many ads with “caste no consideration” written on them. But even one generation ago, people would only marry someone from their own jati. But here Maitreyi is talking about something more subtle, "one's own kind." The comfort of the marriage came from that, despite the fact that she and her husband really had nothing in common. From the very beginning of their marriage they would barely talk.

Each did their own thing. There was comfort in their relationship, a certain amount of personal freedom. She never talks about the sexual aspect of that life, but one has to wonder: if they did not talk, then what was that part of conjugal living like? How far is it possible to have sexual fulfilment without the kind of intimacy that comes of intellectual closeness? She, who lived in a poetic world of images, and he who was kind of a easy-going scientist type, living their separate, closed, prescribed woman/man lives.

For Maitreyi, one redeeming feature of their stay in the Darjeeling Hills was that Rabi Thakur came to stay with them for extended periods several times in the last years before he died (1943).

So she said to Sergei, "I have led a full life." And there was no shortage of truth to this. Her talents and upbringing made of her an exceptional person, which led to authorship and social service. Had she gone with Mircea she would perhaps never have done those things, so we have to give some credit to Fate, which had another purpose to carry out. And who could predict what misfortunes or changes of direction a Mircea-Maitreyi relation might have taken — even when one message in this whole story seems to be that exceptional persons like these two cannot be held down or back by any misfortune.

Nevertheless, as one reads Maitreyi's account of the power of this love to haunt her through her life -- how every time she puts thoughts of Mircea aside and becomes absorbed in her everyday life -- family, social work, writing, etc. -- the moment something stirs up those memories, she finds herself calling his name and suffering again from the hurt of her loss and separation. Indeed, one gets the impression that we are being given a modern example of the classic svakiya/parakiya division of love, for when we look at things from the classical Vaishnava perspective, Maitreyi's adolescent experience of love leads her to the threshold of the mystical devotional experience. Her insights are great, and even useful to us as students of this mystery of divine prema, even if we consider it to be only a threshold.

Part 2.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I went to Omkarananda Ashram yesterday with Neelkanth and Chandramaniji to see if they had developed any resources for this kind of project. I was assuming that that Itranslator was the tip of an iceberg. It wasn't. That is all they have done and will likely intend to do. Nor did they have a host of typists behind rows of computers typing out Sanskrit texts 24 hours a day... or know of anyone.

Their ashram is very impressive though. Interestingly, the place is run by the Swiss. The current acharya Vishweshwarananda and his right-hand man, Satchidananda, built the place practically from scratch starting in 1982 when they first came, and have turned it into a veritable empire, with guesthouses, yoga ashrams, and especially schools--more than 50 in the surrounding foothills region with a really big one (2000 students) in Rishikesh itself. There is also a college right next door. Their Swiss background shows in the aesthetics, cleanliness and efficiency of the ashram and the work they are doing.

They are on the bypass road (officially Omkarananda Saraswati Marg) that runs to Lakshman Jhula from Muniki Reti, through a hilly and forested area. With the view of the Garhwal hills over the Ganges, you may forget you are in India and indeed think you are in Switzerland. And then you hear the honking of the cars and tempos in the street below...


I am thinking a little more about the environmental issues. Before leaving Vrindavan I spoke to a few people and realized that there is no LOCAL newspaper, not even a weekly. This means that there is no forum in Vrindavan for raising and discussing issues that are of vital importance to the local community. Such a newspaper would be of immediate success in the Vrindavan area, as I have noticed that almost everyone turns to the Mathura/Vrindavan pages first when they look at the paper. But subjects that have recently come up--manhole covers being left open, the monkey problem, etc., could all use deeper coverage and followup--and there are so many other matters that need to be raised on a regular basis.

In general, ALL articles in the Hindi newspapers (at least the ones I looked at) are superficially written, seem to be more interested in listing the names of people who were present rather than in analyzing and discussing the issues that are being reported. A typical example would be the coverage of the Gopal Ghose event at the Vrindavan Research Institute (at which I was present), which said practically nothing about Gopala Ghose, and spent half of the article listing the names of people the who spoke--without saying what they said. Khushamod. Everyone likes to see their name in the paper. In short, they have little or no JOURNALISTIC value.

I thought that a good name for the paper would be Chakshuh, as in divyam dadami te chakshuh. The reason is that people just don't see what is in front of their eyes unless someone tells them what to see. Pashyann api na pashyati. The garbage issue is really a classical case. People just do not see that it is a horrendous mess unless they are made aware of it.

In Vrindavan there are numerous similar issues that need to be brought to the fore, like the responsibility of the Goswamis and sadhus, politicians and businessmen in preserving the sanctity of Vrindavan, the proper attitude towards yatris as tourists (how to cultivate and promote a healthy and flourishing tourist industry), etc. Somehow, the idea has to be communicated that progress, the need for which is often given as an excuse for neglect of the environment--in every sense of the word--must become associated with concepts of cleanliness, sanctity, and environmental responsibility.

Local temples and ashrams (and of course the various environmental NGOs) could be brought on board by articles promoting and covering their events. Local politicians could, of course, be wooed by giving them the opportunity to vaunt their own programmes and virtues. It is sometimes said that all politics is local, and it is also said that we should think globally and act locally. So this is an essential aspect of any meaningful action plan.

Financing of the paper could be done through sponsorship, advertising and by vigorous promotion of sales to people coming from outside. The paper could also be "mirrored" by a website, preferably bilingual (English-Hindi), which would keep people around the world appraised of the situation. There is a hunger for news of Vrindavan in the world Vaishnava community and we could feed that hunger while linking potential donors, etc., to the various good causes through their webpages. This could also be a source of income, and Vrindavan businessmen might also see this as a good advertising venue.

I don't think the city of Mathura should best be involved, for many reasons, but Govardhan, Varshana and Radha Kund all should. It is not that Mathura is not suffering from the same kind of environmental disease as the rest of the region, but they have so many other issues that they would swallow up the kinds of concerns that we would like to deal with.

I think that this is of utmost importance in developing the environmental movement, and we would have a stock of good writers in those who are concerned but presently have no venue in which to make their visions visible. Therefore "chakshuh."

This idea may take a while to take shape. First of all, I am in Rishikesh for the time being and from here there is probably little that I could do, and unfortunately my networking resources are minimal. However, I believe that if "Bhangi Bihari" is merciful, people will come forward.

Jai Sri Radhe!! (From a letter to Shrivatsa Goswami)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bhagavad-gita translation

One of my many projects is, as I have already mentioned, is a translation of a summary study of Prabhupada’s Gita by Quebec devotee Vishnurata Das. He is one of the original translators of the Gita into French and he has done a rather nice job of summarizing the essence of the verses and purport, mixing them together into a coherent whole that builds up a pretty good pace.

Anyway, ever on the lookout for things that promote my conception of sadhana, I pluck out the following from the ninth chapter, which is commentary on 9.16-19. No doubt my reading is somewhat different from the author’s, but it just goes to show how razor thin the difference separating Sahajiya understanding from the orthodoxy is.

In fact, all that exists is nothing but a manifestation of the Supreme Being. No matter what we may think, the Absolute is not indefinable, but is on the contrary perceptible in everything that attracts, preoccupies and fascinates us. It is up to us to establish the necessary connections that are needed to recognize His presence in everything that surrounds us, whether it is the wonders of nature or the treasurehouse of creatures that fill our world. God is simultaneously the energy that keeps us alive and in the death that mows down everything in its path; for Him there is no distinction between matter and spirit, since He is both one and the other, the Origin and the End of all that is, the Alpha and Omega, the Cause of all causes.

From the 15th chapter:
To better understand this image, it is enough to look at a body of water in which the nearby trees are reflected: the roots are above and the branches below. In other words, the symbolism of this metaphor arises from the fact that the material universe is nothing more than a reflection of the spiritual world. Misled by our desires and our attachments, we let ourselves be dazzled by the reflected glare of matter, and forget that whatever surrounds us has its real and durable existence in the spiritual world—in forms infinitely purer and more radiant. In short, reality is not in the mirror, but in the object that is reflected in it. The material energy and the splendors it displays do not, strictly speaking, have any substance. Only their origin is tangible, eternal and the source of real satisfaction. (Ch. 15)

From the 16th:
Self-control. Even though this quality applies to all sections of society, it is especially meant for the grihasthas, who must avoid giving themselves over to unregulated sexual intercourse, which would produce children they would be unable to raise in spiritual consciousness. (Ch. 16)

Similarly, from Satya Narayan's Bhagavat-sandarbha:
Devotees have a totally different vision of the universe. They see everything in relation to Krishna. Owing to this understanding, they do not abhor it, but try to use everything in the service of the Lord. And although Lord says that sense objects are the sources of misery, duHkha-yonayaH, they become the source of pleasure for devotees, having been offered to the Lord. (Section 28.13, commentary)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Last day in Vrindavan

So I will be heading back for Rishikesh tomorrow, unless something happens. There has been a big agitation by the Gurjars in Rajasthan over the past month, which has disrupted traffic throughout the region. They are threatening to do something really big tomorrow, so this might mean that my direct overnight bus to Rishikesh will not operate. We'll see.

Today I went to Jai Singh Ghera to talk over things with Shrivatsa Goswami. When I got there, I was surprised to see an event of sorts taking place in the main hall. The Friends of Vrindavan was showing a slide show of their achievements to a group from Delhi who are walking along the Yamuna as far as Agra, taking samples of the water and generally speaking to people about bringing the Yamuna back to life. They are called the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. Most people were young college students from Delhi belonging to a group called Youth for Justice. There was also one Gopal Krishna disciple who seemed to feel a little out of place.

Their leader's name is Manoj Kumar Mishra, who told the story of how he got started on this, which is something of a retirement action plan for him. Robyn Beeche and Jagannath Poddar from FOV were there and there was a little discussion of the relative roles of NGOs and the Indian government, whether the main role was to prod the government to action or to show the way. Some of the stories that came up were a little troubling though--Robyn told me that FOV protested vehemently against paving the parikrama marg, even lying down on the ground to prevent the work from going on, but ultimately business interests and politicos who stood to gain in some way won the day. But more troubling is the plan to build another four-lane ring road for the benefit of Delhi car-wallahs so they can drive directly in to see Banke Bihari without all those darned traffic blockages.

One of the positive things Manoj said was that the river has a revitalization power that makes one hopeful that if people’s habits can be changed, nature will be able to return to its former state. By the time they got to the Chirghat and Baldauji villages a few kilometers before reaching Vrindavan, they noticed that the birds and other marine life that had been missing from the polluted waters near Delhi started to reappear.

Worth mentioning that there were several journalists in the group, two from the magazine Down to Earth, a Delhi-based environmental publication put out by the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), "an independent, public interest organisation which aims to increase public awareness on science, technology, environment and development."

Shrivatsa was in good form, giving a talk on the Yamuna and the importance of spiritual leadership in these kinds of projects. It is probably true that if the sants and gurus showed a bit of leadership in these matters, it would be far better. He was pretty outspoken about the gurus who are only interested in building big ashrams without any concern for the environmental impact. He gave the example of someone with disciples in who has built a big ashram on the banks of the Yamuna, and because of his connections had a road built to it.

Shrivatsa also said that Radha Raman temple is one of only two left in Vrindavan that still use Yamuna water in the puja of the deity. But when his branch of the family has the service, they go through the rituals of bringing water from the river, but they do not actually use it in the puja. One thing I did not know (OK, if this is general knowledge, I show my ignorance of Vrindavan and the Chaitanya Charitamrita, which is where the information apparently comes from), Shrivatsa said that the tree which is just outside Jai Singh Ghera, i.e., the other Chir Ghat, is where Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came and sat down and, seeing the age of the tree, decided that it was an eye-witness to Krishna’s pastimes. So this was the first actual lila-sthali that he discovered and from which all the others were subsequently marked and named.

One last thing that Shrivatsa said that I noted down was his comment that Vrindavan has become the de facto spiritual capital of India. Though Kashi and other places still have a great deal of influence, the proximity to Delhi and the resurgence of Vaishnavism has thrust Vraja into prominence. How Prabhupada would be overjoyed to hear him say that and think that his mission had truly been fulfilled! Well, as I said before, Vrindavan is becoming the victim of its own success, if four-lane highways to parachute Delhi weekenders into Banke Bihari are made a priority over all the other crying needs of this town. Better they should make everyone park outside the town and walk from outside the Bhaktivedanta Gate. That would be better spiritually for the pilgrims and environmentally for the town. But what contractors would make money from that?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Shrivatsa Goswami

After many delays, I finally got to talk to Shrivatsa Goswami today and I am able to report some good news. It looks like the Grantha Mandir is going to get sponsoring directly from the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts. Through Shrivatsa, they have already been mirroring some of our texts, but not keeping up very well. This means that we will probably be able to hire a couple of typists here and in Rishikesh and also find someone who can learn the database program that Madhavananda developed for the site. Madhavananda will be coming to Rishikesh in July and I hope that we can make good progress on this and other counts while he is there.

Shrivatsa has been working with IGNCA for a number of years and has published 10 books over that time through them. One of them is, of course, Haberman's fine translation of the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu.

Otherwise, we covered a number of other topics. Shrivatsa was in form with his own historical obsession, the politics of 16th century Chaitanya Vaishnavism. He does not like "Gaudiya" so much as he says it is a definition that fails both the "vyapti" and "ativyapti" tests. In other words, not everyone who is a Chaitanya Vaishnava is from Bengal, and not everyone from Bengal is a Chaitanya Vaishnava. So it seems that Chaitanya Vaishnava is indeed a better term. His argument was that even Rupa and Sanatan were really South Indians, so Jiva really counts as a Karnata as well, and Gopala Bhatta was definitely from the South. Indeed, Shrivatsa thinks that Mahaprabhu "kidnapped" him from the Sriranga priests, which was the center of Vaishnava power in India then and perhaps even now. Since Gopala Bhatta's input in the Sandarbhas, as clearly as it is stated by Jiva, and the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, as clearly as it is stated by Sanatana, somehow shows that there was some cliquishness going on amongst the Bengali Vaishnavas in the 16th century that minimized his role and contribution. Shrivatsa used the term "factory" to describe the way that the Goswamis produced their literature, and that there was input from most if not all of them in many of the works.

I wanted to write a bit about some of the other classes I have heard at Iskcon, and also do a portrait of Kirnasa, who is hanging around the Iskcon quarter these days and with whom I have been talking a bit. Premadas has been in great form the last few days, asha-bandha and samutkantha were very moving. My dear readers, you deserve to get a portion of that nectar.

Work is suffering...


I should also have mentioned that Satya Narayan is also interested in helping the project by providing typists, so I think we can look for a bit of a surge in GGM activity in the coming year.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Prema Das Shastri

I have been going to Radha Raman Nivas around the corner for Chaitanya Charitamrita path in the evenings. This Raman Reti area is actually one that is steeped in Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, with the Bhagavata Nivasa, Dauji Bagicha and Radha Raman Nivas forming a kind of siddha triangle for early 20th century siddhas like Kripasindhu Dasji, Gauranga Dasji and Ramakrishna Pandit Baba. Radha Raman Nivas is O.B.L. Kapoor’s guru pat, and you can still get all his books here, in English and Hindi.

The Dauji Bagicha is now the Vrindavan Research Institute, so the grounds are being somewhat preserved and there is a replica of Ramakrishna Das’s kutir. So he hasn’t been forgotten. Bhagavata Nivasa is, from what I have heard, in danger of being ruined by developers, who would no doubt love to stick another five storey retirement home just a few meters from Krishna-Balaram. But for the moment it still has that flavor of a bhajan ashram of times gone by. Lots of trees, a well. A few virakta sadhus doing their mala in the shade. Quiet, birds, flowers, swept grounds.

Another place that really does this mood nicely is Tatti Sthan of the Swami Haridas sampradaya. It is the flavor that you get when you read Jaiva Dharma—something that really does not come when you enter, say, an Iskcon temple or a Gaudiya Math (maybe a little bit at the Chaitanya Math in Mayapur). You can immediately understand how the culture has changed. This looks more like “simple living and high thinking.” Anyway, despite the creeping presence of the modern age and the inevitable kitsch (Christmas lights, tinsel decorations and fading paper flower garlands draping the Vyasasan), Radha Raman Nivas still retains a bit of that mood.

Prema Dasji is giving class every day on Chaitanya Charitamrita in front of Gauranga Das Baba’s samadhi to an audience of about 40 babajis, mostly from the ashram itself, and a handful of grihasthas and women. He speaks in Hindi, which is a little odd, as everyone there, as far as I can tell, is Bengali. But it is just as well. I met Prema Das in 2005.

He is obviously an up-and-comer despite the handicap of being initiated into Mukunda Das Goswami’s line and being the mahanta of Surama Kunja. (He is probably in his early 50’s, but looks young and vital.) He made it clear to me when I met him that he considered it his life’s mission to rehabilitate the name of Rupa Kaviraja and he chants a verse in his mangalacharan naming Krishnadas Kaviraj, Mukunda and Rupa “Kavindra.” He denies any reality to the Sahajiya connection and his presentation of Krishna bhakti is pure orthodoxy of the Vrindavan babaji set, along with all the hundreds of illustrations from books like Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivan and Kapoor’s Vraja ke bhakta.

I realized as I came into class today that his intonation and style and even his voice are a bit like Ananta Dasji, but he certainly does not match him in the sheer power of his memory. On the other hand, he compensates for it with enthusiasm and story-telling ability.

He has been discussing Sanatan siksha, and has more or less settled on doing the symptoms of a jata-rati sadhaka since I have been there, doing kshanti (tolerance), avyartha-kalatvam (non-wasting of time), virakti (indifference to worldly things), mana-shunyata (complete freedom from the desire for personal respect and glory). Today we came to asha-bandha, or constancy of hope or aspiration for Krishna’s mercy.

The class began with the quotation that Rupa Goswami uses in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu to illustrate that particular quality. It happens to be written by Sanatan Goswami himself, which fits right into a theme of these classes, since Prema Dasji has been spending much of them telling stories of Sanatan to illustrate the other qualities.

This has always been a favorite of mine, so I quote it in full:

na premā śravanādi-bhaktir api vā yogo'thavā vaiṣṇavo
jñānam vā śubha-karma vā kiyad aho saj-jātir apy asti vā
hinārthādhika-sādhake tvayi tathāpy acchedya-mūlā satī
he gopī-jana-vallabha vyathayate hā hā mad-āśaiva mām
I have no love for Krishna, though it is love for Him that makes Him attainable. Nor do I have a devotional practice of hearing and chanting by which I might attain such prema. I have no Vaishnava yoga practice of discipline either. What qualities do I have that would make me worthy—not learning, good deeds or even—worthless as it is—a noble birth! Nevertheless, I remember you as the one who makes good, and even more, the goals of the unqualified, and therefore in my heart there is a hope that I may attain you, which has such deep roots that they cannot be cut off. O Gopijanavallabha, this hope gives me pain, for I cannot help but remember my disqualifications. (1.3.35)

From here Prema Dasji went into a glorification of Radharani’s mercy. Actually, since I had never heard the story he told of Mukunda Goswami, I will just briefly recount it. It is rather typical in many ways. Mukunda had been doing bhajan in Braj for many years and still had not attained a vision of Krishna. He had come in the first place when Govindaji appeared to him in a dream and told him to come there and do bhajan, so he was frustrated at the length of time it was taking for Krishna to come through for him.

Finally he decided that he would just go to Radha Kund and stop eating or drinking until Krishna appeared to him. Finally, he was on the verge of death (maranâpanna), barely gasping Radharani’s name when Karunamayi took notice of him. She went to Krishna and said, “Is this what you brought him here to Vraja for, to let him starve to death without showing him your mercy?” Then Krishna said, “Ah Radhe! Now that you have taken notice of him, I will certainly be merciful. Everything depends on your mercy.” And so the divine couple appeared to Mukunda and saved his life.

Just to let us know that Krishna’s mercy depends on Radha’s mercy first. And so Prema Dasji cited the following verse from Radha-rasa-sudha-nidhi

dhyāyaṁs taṁ śikhi-piccha-maulim aniśaṁ tan-nāma sankīrtayan
nityaṁ tac-caraṇāmbujaṁ paricaraṁs tan-mantra-varyaṁ japan
śrī-rādhā-pada-dāsyam eva paramābhīṣṭaṁ hṛdā dhārayan
karhi syāṁ tad-anugraheṇa paramādbhutānurāgotsavaḥ
As I meditate on Shyamasundar, remembering the peacock feather on his head, as I constantly sing his names, as I serve steadily his lotus feet and chant the japa of his mantra, I hold in my heart the supreme desire of attaining service to Srimati Radharani’s lotus feet. Oh when will Krishna give me his mercy and make me a joyful personification of that amazing rasa that is known as Radha-dasya? (RRSN 259)

And there was so much more—and a lot going on elsewhere, too. But internet time is hard to get, especially with the downpour yesterday that has cut off electricity throughout Vrindavan for most of the day.


One other item for today. I went to Gopal Ghosh’s house right next to Brahma Kund and the Lala Babu mandir, where the family was completing his shraddh ceremony. Narasingha Dasji told me about it and I thought it was to be a commemorative event, but it was mostly a family affair. Vaishnavas don’t usually attend shraddh ceremonies, but a group came from Iskcon, led by their star kirtaniya Aindra Das, to chant. A very sustained, animated and musical kirtan it was, too.

Gopal Chandra Ghosh will be sorely missed. He had encyclopedic knowledge of Vrindavan history, from early times to the recent. There was a recent article about him on the Vaishnava news sites in which he is cited as saying that at first he did not show the Western Vaishavas respect, but that later he came to change his opinion and so went out of his way to help them when they came to the Vrindavan Research Institute. When I came in 2005, I met him for the first time and was greatly impressed by both his knowledge and his attitude. He was initiated in the Radha Raman line, if I am not mistaken. Anyway, they say that when a repository of oral traditions dies, it is like a library burning down, and that is no doubt true in this case. I don’t believe that he had any equal. From what I hear, the same kind of helpful spirit is missing in the rest of the VRI staff.

Sorry that I have no picture to post of any of my Vaishnavas for the day.


A note about the word hînârthâdhika-sâdhaka, it appears in Brihad-bhagavatamrita 1.5.116 and in Lila-stava 13, and in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 14.1. So it seems to have been a dear expression to Sanatan Prabhu. I also found an instance in the Padma Purana.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


I have been thinking for a few weeks now that I am going to make a slight move on the name front. I know this is a bit silly, and I wrote a poem not so long poking fun at myself for all the name changes. I was thinking about Madhavananda changing his name, and then I saw just the other day, looking at Nitai’s forum again, that Jijaji and Shiva have yet other aliases that they use. The temptation to change identities seems limitless.

Anyway, my idea was simply to add the name Prabhupada gave me back with Jagadananda, so I would use both the name he gave me and the one that Lalita Prasad Thakur gave me. Just now, in a tea stall in front of Krishna Balaram, I ran into Raghavananda Das, an very pakka looking 80 year old Bengali Brahman with a nicely combed white beard and simple white turban. He took Harinam from Srila Prabhupada in London in the 70’s but came back to India in time for his disappearance. Later he took initiation from Madan Mohan Dasji in Govinda Kund, but still lives nearby and puts in a few hours of service for Krishna Balaram.

I was attracted to his appearance, as he showed a great deal of dignity, even nobility, in his demeanor, though it was clear he was not the average Vraja Vaishnava. His tilaka and other signs showed he had some relation to Iskcon, so somehow I struck up a conversation in Hindi and soon discovered he was Bengali, from which one thing led to another. He must have surmised that I was ex-Iskcon because he said something about how “you can take the Prabhupada disciple out of Iskcon, but you can’t take the Srila Prabhupada out of the disciple.” I was agreeing with this, telling about my classes at Madhuban in Rishikesh, and about how I was confirming my strong belief in personalism, when he said, “Precisely, this is what I mean.”

Of course, we did not get around to discussing the kinds of things that are in this forum presently. But eventually I mentioned that my Iskcon name had been Hiranyagarbha and he simply turned reverent and said, “Hiranyagarbha! I have heard so much about you. I have wanted to meet you for so long. One of my life’s wishes has been fulfilled today,” and so on.

Apparently he knew Nadia (Madhusudana) way back when and he had talked me up! Madhusudana must have sent him to Madan Mohan Dasji (who now claims to be 104 years old; is that possible? He must be pretty old, but he looked quite well preserved when I saw him three years ago.).

Raghavananda also mentioned that there has never been another Hiranyagarbha in Iskcon. I said, "It's probably to avoid the bad karma."

It may be said that Hiranyagarbha does not sound like a particularly devotional name. As a devotee I never particularly cared for it, and was even disappointed that I did not get one of those Bhakti names Gaudiya Math sannyasis get when I took sannyas. But since I came to Rishikesh, I was a bit surprised to find out the reverence with which that name is treated there.

Though Hiranyagarbha and Lord Brahma are one, in the yoga tradition the former name is most often associated with the founder of the Yoga system that Patanjali later systemized in the Yoga Sutras. Sometimes he is also considered to be Kapila Deva, the author of Sankhya philosophy. But there is a greater significance to the name than that.

Swami Veda writes about "the Golden Womb" in his commentary on the Yoga-sutras (vol. II, page 18), in connection with a discussion on isvara-pranidhana (“practicing the presence of God”), a subject that comes up several times. Here (YS2.1) it is one of the kriya-yogas, later it comes as one of the niyamas (YS 2.33). The first time it appears is in YS 1.23, where it is specified as a “quick” way to reach samadhi. In these different contexts, the definition is given somewhat differently, since the adhikaras of the practitioner are different. In Sutra 2.1, Swamiji translates isvara-pranidhana as “surrender to God,” following Vyasa’s commentary: “Surrender means offering, dedicating and surrendering all practices and acts to the Supreme Guru, as well as renouncing the results and fruits thereof.” The Supreme Guru, here, is Hiranyagarbha. Swami Veda explains:

In the living tradition, this idea translates itself to an initiate very differently from what it conveys here in the written form. As the initiate’s indweller, the spark of the Golden Womb (Hiranyagarbha), the Guru within, directs the body, speech and mind into the practices, the initiate surrenders himself to its flow and experiences the practices involuntarily, having no claim on them as his initiative, endeavour or exertion. The same experience extends to the initiate’s other acts.
Here is another quote:

"Hiranyagarbha alone is the teacher of yoga, and no other." (Brihad-yoga-yajnavalkya 12.5). The word Hiranyagarbha means "the Golden Womb." The word occurs in the ancient Vedas, "In the beginning was the Golden Womb." (RV 10.121.1) All the yogis insist that no individual person is a teacher, master or guru, but that the Golden Womb alone is the guru. In that womb, the minds of all beings are like fetuses. As a fetus receives nourishment from the mother through the umbilical cord, so all minds in meditation receive knowledge from the Golden Womb, the Teaching Spirit of the Universe. This is similar to the Christian notion of the Holy Spirit, who is the teacher of all teachers.

When one frees himself from all ego, all the knowledge of the Golden Womb flows into him effortlessly and naturally. Just as a fetus receiving nourishment from its mother does not know itself separate from her, so those in meditation do not know themselves separate from the Golden Womb. All revelation is of the grace that flows from the Golden Womb into the minds of those in meditation.

Some traditions assert that the Golden Womb reveals itself in the beginning of creation in the minds of the first human beings. Others go so far as to say that the first human being is a Master, who is an incarnation of the Golden Womb, the Teaching Spirit that has become flesh and from whom all spiritual knowledge begins and is handed down through the lineage of the yogis. He is also known as the Progenitor (Prajapati) or Brahma, the founder and first teacher of the Vedas. All yogis trace their lineage through their masters, ultimately to Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati Brahma. (Vol. I, 69-70)

So, basically, Hiranyagarbha is the original spiritual master of the yogis. I was contemplating my association with this name and whether it really is insufficiently "madhura" for a devotee of Srimati Radharani and a firm believer that prema is the prayojana. But, in the sense that I agree with the idea of a “Supreme Guru” to whom I am surrendered, it seems appropriate to show reverence to the name Srila Prabhupada gave me. In my opinion, Hiranyagarbha is the Samashti Guru Sri Jiva speaks of in Bhakti-sandarbha 330 and the Antaryami Guru spoken of by Kaviraja Goswami in Adi 1, the Chaittya Guru of 11.29.6:

naivopayAnty apacitiM kavayas tavesha
brahmAyuSApi kRtam Rddha-mudaM smarantaH
yo’ntar bahis tanubhRtAm azubhaM vidhunvann
AcArya-caittya-vapuSaH svagatiM vyanakti

Great philosophers could not reach the end of your glories, O Lord, even if they should think on them with increasing joy for aeons. For, in the form of the intelligence within and the teacher without, you destroy all inauspiciousness and reveal the way to attain you.

At any rate, since I no longer feel (never really have) any need to “reject” Iskcon or Srila Prabhupada, I am thinking that it would be an appropriate sign of my continued reverence for him to reappropriate the name. Especially since no one else has taken it. It would furthermore show my own appreciation for the yoga marga and its usefulness for bhakti culture, especially in the Sahaja domain.